The Byrd’s Of Virginia ~ There Are Always Two Sides To A River & A Story, ~ The Limits Of at-DNA

Or like a multi-faceted diamond, so also stories can have more than one side and with many rivers and tributaries and family myths to follow there are many possibilities in tracking the truth. I think my Aunt would have liked to throttle me at times, and my great Aunt Ethel, in memory, over us telling one more story about dead people again and again and again and again. We are our own family myth creatures those who have kissed the Ahnentafel and the Blarney stone, and pulled the holy grail out of obscure record sets and tested DNA of half the family and found and proved ancestries. But the story Aunt Ethel must have told a thousand times if she told it once was, “…the Byrd’s of Virginia, don’t worry about your mother’s side, on your father’s side, you descend from – the Byrd’s of Virginia…” “…the Byrd’s of Virginia this…” and “…the Byrd’s of Virginia that…”.

Copy of rawhide deck dana kingsmill 045

Westover – in Charles City County, Virginia. Wm. Jr. and the 3rd lived in this house but William Byrd the 1st was before the time of the house but is buried on this property about 1/4 mile up river.

This is the Byrds as in the Byrd’s of Westover Plantation, Charles City County, Virginia. You must go there when you can get a tour of the house, the grounds are open daily. I will say right now I do not descend from the Byrds who lived in the house, but we think from their father/grandfather, William Byrd the 1s,t who initially bought these properties and  is buried in the family cemetery on the property. Of course the autosomal DNA really will not reach back this far and the gap in paper makes my hair turn gray with – “you can’t prove this, forget it, this is beating a dead horse…”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cemetery at Westover – Findagrave has the list of all the people buried there.

The findagrave page for the cemetery at Westover Plantation needs to be updated!

Copy3 of rawhide deck dana kingsmill 012

But if you want to take the story for pleasure as your family lore and accept it at face value with the caveats that it might be nothing more than a broken telephone story, then I share the family history story. And I add that trying to track down the documentation on this family I did learn some most interesting added bits that add to the mystery and possibly add a suggestion of corroboration. (For the descendants of William Byrd Jr they are organizing now via Facebook — see the later story)


My later Thomas Byrd/Bird’s (1766 – 1839) tombstone names his father John, these men are our Byrds of Virginia. I only have a father – John – for Thomas on my tree and he is not connected to a father. I have them hanging in limbo and the only thing that would really satisfy me is to prove this with multiple DNA links – and even then, all things considered, for folks with Virginia ancestries one might be related to a match in several ways – so the DNA testing story will be complicated and could be pricey, but a fun way to look at how DNA might be used to prove obscure family lines.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The grave of Thomas Byrd/Bird of Virginia in Alpharetta, Georgia and several family at this Byrd-McCleskey cemetery. Note the lid of the crypt of Thomas Byrd/ Bird is ajar which means the skull with teeth is likely within touching distance. I am nowhere near the graves and have not been there since I was a child, I have only driven through the state once in years and we did not even slow down (genetic genealogy buffs will know what I am talking about). A gracious findagrave volunteer took these pictures and they have also been passed on to the local historical society which was asking for locations to help in the preservation. I did mention if she or anyone might be in touch with the local university maybe their genetics or archaeological or something department might be interested in the DNA of one of the first Europeans who shamefully took the land of Native Americans who lived in Alpharetta.

at-DNA matching CANNOT be used to prove it; it is really too far back – isn’t it? I do not care if you have got a dozen DNA circles for some guy and gal – au-DNA aka at-DNA ONLY reaches so far – let’s conservatively say 5 – 6 generations (???). Moreover from 3rd cousin the at-DNA test is going to miss a bunch of them and so just because you do NOT match a person who should be 3rd or 4th cousin do NOT think all is lost – it might have just missed – test more cousins and their siblings. BUT, also you must not assume you know who you and a match descend from – you must look at the amounts of shared centiMorgans – which is the only thing technical anyone really needs in reading and understanding autosomal DNA. The amounts of shared centiMorgans two people share tells you exactly – sort of exactly – how two people are related. There are loads of charts – the best one is made by the Genetic Genealogist (you can google his page).

But the cMs are easy to grasp and the charts keep it simple. You look at how many  centiMorgans two people share and you can know how they are related. Parent and child about 3,200 centiMorgans give or take a couple of known hundred centiMorgans. All the way to 4th and 5th cousins and all genetic relatives in-between and the best charts will show you the several variables that two people could be.

cherie fan chart dna best names

Our DNA for genealogy project that expanded from family, in-laws and neighbors and family of descendants to all people who ever saw a river is the French Broad River Families Project we also keep the smaller 12-marker y-DNA test for members and you are buying from Family Tree DNA not me.

Right now the ftDNA holiday sale is on and at these prices you can get enough kits for the family and several invaluable cousins. There are sales all through the year if you are reading this later and the sale is off. In Family Tree DNA the autosomal test is called the Family Finder.

And note the term “genetic relative”. We are 50/50 of our parents but from there back we might be some of one and more of another and much less of all the rest, because each of your parents will not pass along 50-50 from their parents. After enough generations some ancestors drop out altogether and will not show up in an autosomal DNA test.

But at-DNA is a magnificent for a tool for genealogy where you can test the autosomal DNA of cousins from every one of your ancestral lines (might need more than one) and learn how much of each of your ancestors reached into your life genetically. From the matching in autosomal you can then have male surname line descendants of your ancestral lines also test their y-DNA and often prove the line by matching the y-DNA of a family group. (Sometimes also some of the mt-DNA). See in contents for y-DNA stories and more autosomal and mt-DNA stories. Contents are on the right on most desk and laptops and below on many phones and tablets.

So when you match anyone no matter what company you test with – LOOK – at how many centiMorgans you share with that person. Then go to a relationship chart and see all the possibilities of how you two could be related – like 2nd cousin 1 X, or 1/2 2nd cousin, or 3rd cousin. When you SEE what is possible then you KNOW where to look in your family tree – you will learn the distance and then see in your and their tree where your lines might cross.

And when you and a near relative test, then you can compare any third-person match to know whether it is a match on your mother’s side or father’s side, and continue to narrow the possibilities to identify your common ancestors. But I caution against DNA circles with ancestral lines that reach too far back in times – read your centiMorgans!


Thomas Bird Byrd is my 4th great grandfather and this possible John the 5th and in my autosomal matches I have four male Bird Byrd surname males (one female) and there are 25 people who give the name Bird Byrd (mostly both names) in their ancestral surnames (all in ftDNA Family Finder). So now this story goads me into checking their histories again and cMs again, going over every match – and looking for any clues or something I missed before and analyzing each one again – more…

Based on Thomas’ birth about 1766 in Virginia, then John is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1730 maybe and that is still a long ways to go to get to the James River – and a lot of missing generations so I am not comfortable with claiming anyone.  But our Thomas Byrd Bird 1766 – 1839 was exactly where Aunt Ethel said he would be in Alpharetta and buried in 1839 in a crypt, and it was said he was named for his ancestor Thomas Byrd and he lived on the south side of the James River. He was the so-called brother on the south side of the James – but whose brother?

Aunt Ethel knew all about them, her mother, Mary Zillah McCleskey Stripling had told her the stories over and over and they came from her father, Thomas Byrd McCleskey (sometimes McCluskey, McClisby, McClaskey among others). Thomas was the son of Lucy Bird Byrd McCleskey and her husband David McCleskey and Lucy was the daughter of the Thomas Bird Byrd buried in 1839.

And – Thomas Byrd McCluskey McCleskey had an extra little toe. Aunt Ethel told the story like she saw it herself from the story she described her mother, Zillah telling. She described how her mother said he would be begged to take off his sock and show the toe and he would.

I met online (via email and the wonderful one of the Lanier Byrds and we shared many records and stories for a few years – we have lost touch at least 10 years ago. But he descends from the Byrds of Virginia and he said many of the males in the family line including himself have an extra little toe.

Knock me over with a feather – but would that even be possible through one of the Bird Byrd daughters and instantly made me wonder – if not – then was Lucy really a Bird Byrd – maybe she was first married to a Bird Byrd and Thomas Byrd McCleskey was the stepson of David McCleskey, a second marriage?

So far all the research has led to more questions and fewer answers.

Another thrill for the family lore came through Aunt Ethel’s haughty and somewhat irritating broken record phrase the “Byrd’s of Virginia” are the best people, finest blood Virginians story. My Dai took me to Surry County, Virginia, the home of the colonial patent for Thomas Byrd on the point on the south side of the James river and in sight of Westover property across the river.

Copy2of rawhide deck dana kingsmill 011

We are standing on the grounds of Westover Plantation near the cemetery which is 1/4 mile up from the house. This view shows the point across the river and where land records of Surry County, Virginia shows Thomas Byrd the 1st held the patent.

We went into the Surry County Historical Society and were told they did not know all about the Byrds, any Birds that could answer my questions but that the Society’s historian would be in at 1 PM and we were directed to a nice diner across the street to have lunch. When we returned – and somewhere I have the lady’s name – we were introduced and she asked who I was looking for – I told her I thought my ancestor was Thomas Byrd Bird of Surry and hoped for more information – and the lady exclaimed, “Of course, the Byrds of Virginia, yes, the Byrds of Virginia, there are many records and many still researching the Byrds.”

I told her about meeting online one of the Lanier Byrds and she knew them well, noting she taught a couple of them in school and, yes, she could confirm she also had heard the story that many of the Byrd men had an extra little toe. But I have not yet found any early stories about the first Byrd men having extra toes.

No genealogical paper, no at-DNA for people so far back, no legal way to take teeth from skulls in graves for DNA testing, but what about extra little toes? I can’t even.

Charts for shared centiMorgans –

ISOGG – International Society Of Genetic Genealogy

Here is a great tool and while there be sure to add your known shared cMs – you go to this page You enter the amount of shared cMs centiMorgans and boom it will give you the list of who the possible relatives the person could be – it is magic!

I do hope you will follow Cherie Lynn’s Herstory!

This has to be the most embarrassing video ever but The Byrd’s of Virginia are noted.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


6 thoughts on “The Byrd’s Of Virginia ~ There Are Always Two Sides To A River & A Story, ~ The Limits Of at-DNA

  1. My family in Arkansas are direct descendants of the Byrds of Virginia. They left and went into North Carolina, then Kentucky as frontierman. On to Tennesse and finally down into Poyen Arkansas in the early 1800’s. My grandfather was William Buck Byrd. Buck is a family middle name. Several had it. He was called Willbuck. What I find so interesting is our first names are the same. Mine is Cherie Ladale Stinson. Happy hunting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great Granddaughter of Edith Byrd Ward, one of twelve children of Charles Edward and Anna Martha Byrd around Falls Mills. Charles Edward one of five children of Wiley and Margaret Elizabeth (Hudson) Byrd.

    I’m Kimberly, eldest great-grandchild to Boyd and Edith (Byrd)Ward in Ohio mostly Also in TN and TX, &MD

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m descended from some Byrds of Virginia too.
    My 8th great-grandmother on my dads side was Agnes Goochland Byrd. She was born in 1695 in Varina, Henrico Virginia and m. Joshua Prewitt in Va. in 1719 and d in 1840 in Bedford Va. I cant find parents for her. My 7th great grandmother was Jane Elizabeth Byrd b. 1701 in Rockingham Virginia and m. James Claypool in Delaware in 1727. She d in WV in 1768.
    Jane had parents who were quakers- John Byrd and Rebecca Sutton.
    I’m convinced that these two women are cousins because I have cousins with the Byrd surname that populate with cousins from the Prewitt line on my dads side. I dont think I am related to THE Byrds of Virginia but I would love to know which Byrds I fly with lol
    Very interesting blog post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great stuff. Have you started with DNA testing yet? This particular connection is too far back to really show autosomal DNA “directly” But once you test with a company like ftDNA, where the men test their y-DNA then you can use autosomal DNA to match them from each line and then… This is very far. But I am still searching for my living Byrd Male who can match “which” Byrd, or not. And then hope I can sort it out. If you have tested your autosomal at almost any company then you can upload the results to multiple places ftDNA, MyHeritage, Gedcom… And sort out more of the cousins. 🙂 Good luck.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s